After two pandemic-affected editions of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), the country’s longest-running film festival is back with a stunning list of 101 independent films from 55 countries. As the world continues adapting to a truly new normal, the 33rd edition of SGIFF focuses on discovering fresh and inclusive perspectives in a bid to demonstrate human connectedness and function as a vehicle of progress.
Entering his first full year as Programme Director, Thong Kay Wee took the opportunity to refine the team’s approaches and devote even more care to sifting through a year’s worth of new films. “SGIFF has been through a lot over the last few years and a period of consolidation with new insights have been helpful for our path ahead. We have to continually challenge ourselves to evolve as we grow together with our audience and the film industry,” shares Thong.
“This year, we have an eclectic spread of 101 films from over 50 countries, and we encourage and appeal to the public to come out of their comfort zones, to catch these films that can only be screened at SGIFF,” he adds. “We’ve been through a lot over the last few years, and for this edition, we’ve consolidated our processes and continue to challenge ourselves, as we evolve and continue to grow together with audiences and filmmakers. We are making a complete shift towards more designated and inclusive selections, allowing audiences to have different positions to assume when enjoying film platforms.”
There are a number of new changes to the festival this year, including the introduction of two new Festival sections termed ‘Altitude’ and ‘Horizon’. In line with last year’s changes to our programme sections, these new additions complete the shift towards a more designated and inclusive programming direction where we welcome audiences to consider the different positions they can assume when they enjoy our film offerings.”
Opening this year’s Festival is Assault, a darkly comic, absorbing thriller that depicts the farce and fault lines in a society ruled by the insecurities of men. Directed by Adilkhan Yerzhanov, a major figure in Kazakh cinema, Assault premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and won the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Yerzhanov first gained prominence following his breakout feature The Owners (2014), which premiered at Cannes and was nominated for Best Asian Feature at SGIFF; he went on to make acclaimed films like The Plague at the Karatas Village (2016), The Gentle Indifference of the World (2018) and A Dark, Dark Man (2019), some of which screened at SGIFF. Assault is also the Festival’s first-ever Central Asian opening film.
“I have been an avid follower and friend of the Festival for close to a decade and am humbled that ‘Assault’ has the privilege of not only being this year’s opening film but to be the first-ever Central Asian film to headline SGIFF. Casting an irreverent look at social and political crises, we hope that Assault greatly resonates with the festival’s audience, allowing them to ponder on the impact of such events on society and on the individual. I hope that the film can spark more conversation amongst festival-goers and look forward to discussing more with them during the festival,” shares Yerzhanov.
SGIFF will also be hosting an exclusive In Conversation session under the Forum programme with Yerzhanov himself and his long-time producer, Olga Khlasheva. Goliath, Yerzhanov’s other acclaimed film of the year will also be presented at the festival this year.
This year’s Asian Feature Film Competition presents 9 new films by directors making their first to third features, of which three films were developed and nurtured at previous editions of the festival’s Southeast Asian Film Lab (SEA FL). Presenting their debut features for the first time in Singapore, alumni Thai director, Sorayos Prapapan will be showing Arnold is a Model Student, a lighthearted satire highlighting Thailand’s recent Bad Student movement.
Meanwhile Filipino writer-director Martika Ramirez Escobar, introduces psychological comedydrama film Leonor Will Never Die. SEA FL 2017 alumni Makbul Mubarak also makes his dazzling debut with the Indonesian political drama Autobiography, a co-production with collaborators from Indonesia, France, Germany, Poland, Singapore, Philippines and Qatar.
For the 33rd SGIFF, half of the diverse festival line-up sits across six curated programme sections that aim to spark the audience’s curiosity and interests. Under the Altitude section, watch important new works by some of the most established filmmakers today, including The Novelist’s Film, the 27th feature by South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo whose work explores everyday life and human interaction in subtly profound ways. The Novelist’s Film premiered at the Berlinale where it won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. In this work of startling intimacy, a novelist’s affinity with a younger actress leads to a film collaboration.
No Bears is by acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi whose films are known for their humanistic perspective on life in Iran. Though he was banned from leaving the country and barred from filmmaking since 2010, he has continued to find ways to create fresh, award-winning works. He was ordered to serve a six-year prison sentence in July 2022. Meanwhile, Alcarràs is the sophomore feature of Spanish filmmaker Carla Simon. The film won the Golden Bear at the 72nd Berlinale and became the first Catalan-language film to receive this award.
Under the Horizon section, look out for strong festival discoveries and films of eclectic perspectives from all over the world. Divine Factory is an observational documentary tackling the topics of religion, labour and capital, by Filipino filmmaker Joseph Mangat. This is his feature debut, which was a recipient of Tan Ean Kiam Foundation SGIFF Southeast Asian Documentary (SEA-DOC) Grant.
A Long Journey Home by young Chinese director Zhang Wenqian makes its Asian premiere at SGIFF. This is her feature debut, which was awarded the jury prize in the Burning Lights Competition at Visions du Réel, while Stone Turtle by Malaysian director, writer and producer Woo Ming Jin is a spellbinding island folk horror. Stone Turtle won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Locarno Film Festival in 2022.
The Foreground section spotlights genre favourites and cinematic attractions of the year. World War III by director Houman Seyedi will be making its Southeast Asian premiere after winning the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor and Orizzonti Award for Best Film at the 79th Venice International Film Festival. The film was also selected as the Iran entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards.
Premiering in Southeast Asia, The Abandoned was directed and co-written by TSENG Ying-Ting and stars Golden Horse Award winner Ethan Ruan as well as Golden Horse Award nominee Janine Chang in this dynamic crime thriller. Nocebo by Irish filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan is an Irish-Filipino psychological thriller starring Eva Green, Mark Strong and Filipino actress Chai Fonacier, in its Singapore premiere.
Finally, The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra is the first feature film by South Korean director Park Syeyoung. A quirky, melancholy body horror that mixes genre kicks with playful formalism as it follows the life of a mattress-dwelling fungus. The film won 3 awards at the 26th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, including the Korean Fantastic Audience Award, and will be making its Southeast Asian premiere at SGIFF.
At the Undercurrent segment, watch films that chart exciting directions and bold expressions in cinema today, affirming imaginative treatments of the moving image. A total of five double bills and three single features will be featured in this section. All The Things You Leave Behind by Thai filmmaker Chanasorn Chaikitiporn and The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon by Vietnamese filmmaker Tuan Andrew Nguyen will both make their Asian premieres at SGIFF. Both are politically charged films that take a localised look at the lasting impact of war.
Unidentified is a hilarious, moving, and whimsical speculative fiction piece that tackles the idea of belonging by Korean-Canadian filmmaker Jude Chun and Eventide is a single-shot landscape short film by Los Angeles-based visual artist Sharon Lockhart that experiments with the rich sonic and visual resources of the night to evoke both wonder and mourning.
De Humani Corporis Fabrica is an immersive, visceral journey through the structures and pathologies of human and medical bodies in the 21st century. A collaboration between anthropologists and visual artists Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, De Humani Corporis Fabrica premiered at Cannes in the Directors’ Fortnight section.
In the Standpoint section, look out for new international works that present strong attitudes of personal, social and political consequences. A House Made of Splinters by Danish documentary filmmaker Simon Lereng Wilmont is a sobering window into the little lives and high hopes of three children seeking refuge at a temporary shelter in eastern Ukraine, in its Asian premiere.
I Didn’t See You There is the feature debut of American filmmaker Reid Davenport, who makes films about disability from an overtly political perspective. The film premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and won Best Directing in the US Documentary Competition. We Don’t Dance For Nothing is Chinese-Greek director and producer Stefanos Tai’s feature debut. He was inspired by the memories of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong who number some 400,000. Myanmar Diaries by The Myanmar Film Collective premiered in the Panorama section of the Berlinale where it won the Documentary Award. The Collective consists of young Burmese filmmakers and European film professionals who continue making films as creative resistance in the wake of the military coup.
The Domain section focuses on a sphere of activity and knowledge in cinema. This year, guest programmer Róisín Tapponi presents a selection of film and video works from South West Asia and North Africa (SWANA), her area of specialisation. To Those Who Remain is a special programme approaches themes of rurality, labour and land in South West Asia & North Africa (SWANA), celebrating those who continue to care, nurture and hold their community, without letting go. Guest programmed by Róisín Tapponi, Founder & CEO of Shasha Movies, the first independent streaming service for South-West Asian and North African cinema, the selection of films invites the audience to consider land and the places we call home on a conceptual level. Tapponi is also the Founder of Habibi Collective, ART WORK Magazine and Independent Iraqi Film Festival (IIFF)
Foragers by Jumana Manna (with Hybrid Q&A) is an important commentary on the extent of the Israeli occupation of Palestine – where violence is not only physical, but also cultural. An established Lebanese filmmaker, Ali Cherri presents his first feature The Dam (with Hybrid Q&A), a political fable that explores the power of imagination. The film premiered at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.
It wouldn’t be the SGIFF without the beloved Singapore Panorama section, and this time around, will span 26 films including three feature films that will make their World Premiere at SGIFF. These are Absent Smile by celebrated visual artists John Clang and Lavender Chang, Before Life After Death by filmmaker Anshul Tiwari and Geylang produced by Jack Neo and directed by Boi Kwong.
A unique Virtual Reality double bill will also be part of the short film programme, featuring The Seven Step Verse by documentary filmmaker Ella Raidel and In times like these… by multidisciplinary creatives Jevon Chandra, Chen Yanyun, Corentin Derbre and Alex Scollay.
The Forum section of the Festival bridges the filmmaking community and the public through a series of fascinating talks and panel discussions. The upcoming edition of Forum experiments with more creative and interactive elements where the audience can experience Festival firsts like We All Paint Ourselves Green, a talk and live demo of Extended Reality technology; and Mildly Offensive, Sometimes Accurate, an interactive gameplay hosted by comedian Hossan Leong, where local film industry names pit their viewpoints against each other while the audience continually votes on the ‘offensiveness’ of each statement. All Forum events are free of charge, but registration is essential.
The annual Silver Screen Awards, which takes place this year on 4 December, honours the exceptional contributions of filmmakers who have helped shape regional cinema. Two key award categories are the Asian Feature Film Competition and the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition; this year, the former category consists of 9 new films by directors making their first to third features, while the latter category presents 17 new films across four programmes.
“SGIFF is back at full capacity this year and we are truly grateful to those who have supported us through thick and thin. In addition to having a Central Asian film open the festival for the first time, we have also expanded Producers Network to include the whole of Asia, reinforcing our support for independent films in the entire region,” shares Emily J. Hoe, Executive Director, SGIFF.
“We now provide a more holistic platform for filmmakers, with the festival’s new developments perfectly complemented by existing competition sections for Asian Feature Films and Southeast Asian Short Films as well as Singapore Panorama. Through these critical sections, we spotlight the best emerging filmmakers from the region and are excited to follow and support their careers going forward,” she adds. “It’s been a bumpy road full of challenges, but we hope that these films inspire conversations, our international guests bridge the filmmaking community with local audiences, and our new programmes continue to bring the film community together, as we reinforce film’s position to champion film and filmmaking in Asia.”
The 33rd SGIFF will be hosted across multiple festival venues, with screenings at Filmgarde Kallang, Carnival Cinema at Golden Mile Tower, Golden Village Plaza Singapura, Oldham Theatre, The Projector, Projector X: Picturehouse; and talks and panels will be held at Anomalyst Studio, LASALLE College of the Arts, Oldham Theatre and 42 Waterloo. SGIFF is an event of the Singapore Media Festival (SMF), hosted by Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA).
SGIFF 2022 runs from 24th November to 4th December 2022. Tickets available here